When it comes to matters of faith and children, we want parents to win. This means taking every opportunity we can to reactivate and re-position the home as the primary faith-training ground in a kids’ life – like when the subject of baptism come up, for instance! Why does this prove to be so hard and/or intimidating for today’s families though? For starters, we sometimes need to get out of our own way.
Matthew 18, Jesus tells his disciples, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This statement was in response to his disciples asking who would be considered the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. In essence, Jesus shares that those who choose to engage the world with the humility and faith of children hold a special place in his heart.
Jesus seems to be alluding to something we as adults seem to forget all too often. That as we grow wiser in knowledge and experience, our ability to reason and use logic, can sometimes cast a shadow over our ability to trust and engage in faith. So when it comes to kids and faith decisions like baptism, its important not to allow their limited intellect to trump their simple faith. Given Jesus’ perspective, is it possible God may use children in our adult lives to remind us of the kind of faith we once had? If so, the faith of children can and should be encouraged and celebrated.
So in its simplest terms, what is baptism, anyway?
- It’s an OUTSIDE action of what already happened INSIDE.
- It’s a sacrament (or sacred moment) – something special followers of Jesus participate in.
- It’s a milestone in a believer’s life.
- Jesus did it. (Mark 1:9-11)
- Others hear about Jesus and our story (Galatians 3:27)
- The Church is encouraged to baptize new believers. (Matthew 28:19)
The Message version of Romans 6:3-5 also offers a beautiful picture of how the water is used to symbolize the moment we placed our trust in God. Though, I’ve found using the example of a “house” rather than “country” is helpful for kids.
When we went under the water, we left the old [house] of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into a new [house] of grace—a new life in a new [home]! That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-[filled-home]. Romans 6:3-5, The Message
Once a child is given the chance to process and understand the “what” and “why” of baptism, enlisting a parent to act as a partner in his/her spiritual formation is key. We want to position the parent as the primary faith champion and equip them with everything they need for the job. Before baptism, kids need an understanding of grace, to take ownership of their faith and an opportunity to check their motivations.
Aside from understanding what baptism is, it’s also important (dare I say more important in some cases) for kids to understand what baptism is not. Especially if they’re limited in their language regarding faith, it’s very easy and common for a child to innocently express that they want to be baptized because they want “to be closer to God” or “God love them more” or “to get to Heaven”. Parents have a beautiful opportunity to remind their child of the magnitude of God’s grace! The good news that once we accept His free gift of salvation simply by believing, we immediately get the complete fullness of His love. There’s nothing we can do, even baptism, that could make God love us any more or any less. This brief, animated video can be helpful: https://vimeo.com/39282627
We want to parents to feel confident that their child not only understands and accepts the Gospel, but has come to the decision to be baptized independently. That they don’t just borrow or inherit faith from their parents, but that it’s become their own. Parents can ask questions like, “How do you think your life would be different if you didn’t know Jesus? or “Can you think of a time Jesus answered your prayers or helped you when were sad, upset or scared?” These open-ended questions may help a child begin thinking not just about the importance of faith in their family as a whole but how Jesus has made a unique difference in their personal lives.
Here’s the thing: There’s no “right” age or action to indicate that a child is ready. It’s hard to know exactly when anyone is ready, because baptism is an outward expression of an inward choice to follow Jesus. But there are some helpful things to listen for when trying to understand what motivated a child towards a decision to be baptized.
- The child initiated the conversation. The parents didn’t force the decision.
- The child feels more excited about showing others they follow Jesus than any fears or anxieties the actual baptism ceremony may cause (afraid of water, attention, etc).
- The child cares more about Jesus being in the spotlight (announcing His work in their lives) than they are concerned about people being proud of them.
While these are helpful indicators a child’s motivations are pure, they don’t always determine whether a child is baptized or not.
Sometimes all it takes is one conversation to help a child bridge those connections to decide if they have ever struggled with those false motivators. If so, a parent can acknowledge, pray through them with their child and move on with confidence that they’ve done due diligence. Other times, this conversation can lead parents to decide to wait. And that is okay! There is no rush. If there is fear, anxiety, hesitation, just wait.
Remember, baptism is not a condition of salvation, it’s the evidence of salvation.
We can trust that the Spirit living in a child will do the work of compelling and empowering them to be baptized when the time is right.
“When a child receives the Lord, the child doesn’t receive a junior-sized Holy Spirit and a Jesus action figure. The child receives the full power of the Spirit of God and is no less spiritual than any adult. Marrying this Divine empowerment with childlike faith is a world-changing mixture, to say the least. Children are our future, but they are also potent agents of God’s kingdom in the present.” Neil Cole, Church 2.0
Helpful Analogies for Kids
The Chair – Believing simply means to trust. When you trust in something, you believe that it will do what it is supposed to do. Just like sitting in a chair. Do you usually take the time before sitting down to make sure the legs are strong enough to hold us? No. You just come in and sit down, right? You put all your weight on it. You trust that it will hold you up. You believe that the chair will do what it is made to do, right? That’s what it’s like to believe in or to trust in Jesus. You choose to BELIEVE that Jesus really is God’s Son, that He died on a cross, He rose again, and He took care of your past, present and future sin.
Understanding Baptism Symbols
Wedding Ring – A wedding ring is a symbol to show someone is married. When the ring is taken off, is that person still married? Yes. The ring is a symbol that tells people that they are married. Baptism is a symbol to show someone is a Christian. If someone doesn’t get baptized, are they still a Christian? Yes. The baptism just tells people they’re a Christian.
Birthday Party – Have you ever had a birthday party before? It’s a big celebration isn’t it? At every birthday party you have, are you born all over again? No. The party is just a way to celebrate something that already happened – your birth. Baptism is just a big party to celebrate that you are a Christian. It’s celebrating your “Jesus birthday” – the day you decided to trust Jesus. Just like at your normal birthday parties, you’re celebrating something that already happened.
Kool-Aid – What happens when you add drink powder (like Kool-Aid) to clear water? It changes color. The water transforms. What if I said to you, “Okay, now turn that back to clear water.” Can you do it? No. That’s what happened to your heart when you decided to follow Jesus. His love transformed it. And you can’t change it back!
Understanding God’s Love
Last Name – What if one day you decided to tell everyone you had a different last name? You tell your mom and dad to call you Lila Jones instead of Lila Smith. Is there really anything you can do to not have the last name “Smith” anymore? No! You will always be a Smith. Even if you decide not be. That’s sort of what it’s like to be in God’s family.
Once you are in Gods famiy, you are “in” and there’s not much you can do to change that! What if you do something really bad? Would your mom and dad stop loving you? No! They might be disappointed…or even a little mad right? Might there be consequences? Yes. But would they stop loving you? No way. It’s the same way with God. There’s nothing we can do that can make Him love you more or less.